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Kentucky falls to Tennessee: 5 takeaways and postgame banter

The rubber match came right down to the very end.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Kentucky vs Tennessee Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The rematch all of the Southeastern Conference was waiting for finally arrived. After Kentucky Wildcats blew out the Tennessee Volunteers in Lexington, the Volunteers returned the favor down in Knoxville.

With the third round set for Saturday afternoon, both fan bases packed themselves inside Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for the SEC’s Game of the Year and the right to advance to the SEC Championship game.

The game did not disappoint. Despite the officials’ best effort to make the game unwatchable, a back-and-forth affair finished with an 82-78 victory for the Vols. Kentucky had an eight point lead late, but Tennessee his some huge shots down the stretch to claim the victory.

Wildcats Fall Short of SEC Title Game

Kentucky’s first victory over Tennessee certainly wasn’t an anomaly, but maybe that was simply because PJ Washington wasn’t in foul trouble and Tennessee didn’t make more than half of the three-point shots they took.

Regardless, the Wildcats dropped their second game in a row against the Volunteers, a result that will cost the team a chance to reclaim their SEC postseason title and a No. 1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament.

Tale of Two Halfs for Washington

As if losing Reid Travis wasn’t bad enough heading into Kentucky’s March 2nd rematch with Tennessee, sophomore star PJ Washington picked up two early fouls in the game that handicapped Kentucky’s offense.

Like two weeks ago, Washington was again handed two early fouls and Kentucky’s offensive flow took a similar dip.

While EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards played decently well in his absence, neither pose the offensive threat Washington does.

Washington finished the first half with just two points but added 14 in the second half to total 16 for the game.

Travis Starts and Impacts Accordingly

On Friday afternoon, Kentucky began their postseason play against the Alabama Crimson Tide. While Reid Travis was active, he did not play from his usual starting role as the team’s center.

Instead, head coach John Calipari brought the veteran big man off the bench in his first game back from a knee sprain.

On Saturday against Tennessee, though, Travis heard his name called to man the paint from the jump. Needless to say, Kentucky’s x-factor stepped up to the plate.

Travis scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds, which included nailing a three pointer from the top of the arc just before the halftime buzzer sounded.

The big man finished with 11 points and six rebounds but gave Kentucky exactly what they needed in the first half to stay afloat. But by fouling out late in the second half, he left the Wildcats vulnerable on the glass.

Montgomery, Richards Shine as Twin Towers

On Friday, EJ Montgomery found Nick Richards for an emphatic slam to highlight Kentucky’s win over Alabama.

On Saturday, the two were subbed in throughout the game as PJ Washington found further foul trouble and Reid Travis was granted a rest. As a result, the two picked up where they left off playing alongside each other.

Montgomery scored five consecutive points and Richards added a jumper in sequence to boost Kentucky’s bench production.

If the two indeed remain in Lexington for next season, this should be a sneak peak of what lies ahead.

Hagans Corrals Solid Performance

Ashton Hagans hasn’t had his best stretch of basketball over the last two months, but showed up on Saturday when it mattered most. The freshman point guard began the game with a three from the left wing, a shot he isn’t exactly known for.

Though 10 total points doesn’t jump off the box score, a 12/3 assist/turnover ratio certainly does. That goes without crediting the fact that Hagans played well against Jordan Bone for much of the game, the conference’s highest-regarded point guard, though not enough in the end.

For Kentucky to win a national title, or really even make the Final Four, they’ll have to receive quality two-way play from Hagans.

Now, we await Selection Sunday to see where the Cats land.